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How the Plastic Boycott is Failing Disabled People

There’s no denying that plastic pollution is having a disastrous impact on our planet. In particular, carelessly discarded plastic waste is killing marine life, with a shocking five TRILLION pieces of plastic infesting our world’s oceans.

Plastic bags, food wrappers, bottles and single-use plastics, such as drinking straws, are causing a pollution disaster. Every year, 12 million tonnes of plastic waste ends up in our oceans. An estimated one million seabirds and 100,000 marine creatures die annually as a result, either by ingesting plastic or becoming tangled in it.

As plastic can take hundreds of years to disintegrate, the same plastic bag, or drinks cans holders, can kill many animals over several generations. Greenpeace says the North Pacific is the worst affected, with around two trillion pieces of plastic causing pollution.

Drinking out of a straw

© belahoche / Adobe Stock


Drinking straws ban

In response to the international effort to reduce plastic waste, many businesses have taken steps to help, such as no longer providing plastic drinking straws. Some companies, festivals and restaurants have actually banned them, while UK environment secretary Michael Gove has suggested this might become the law.

Although everyone agrees that something must be done to combat environmental disaster, the plastic-free campaigns have been accused of failing disabled people. A blanket ban on plastic straws isn’t working for some sections of society and it’s having a negative impact on the lives of disabled people.

In the United States, Seattle became the first city in America to ban single-use plastic straws in the food industry in 2018, but while it’s a boost for environmental conservation, there has been a backlash on social media, as it has been pointed out that straws are vital for some disabled people.


Drinking difficulties

Certain medical conditions mean their muscles, such as in their arms and mouth, don’t work at full capacity. The result is that something which a non-disabled person can do without thinking, such as picking up a drink to sip it, is an action that’s very difficult and often impossible.

Using a straw can make the difference between a disabled person being able to have a drink or not. Cerebral palsy is one medical condition that can make drinking without a straw difficult. People with cerebral palsy say targeting straws is the wrong way to go about saving the planet.

They point out that many people rely on straws 100% of the time, so putting a bottle or glass containing a beverage next to someone who has cerebral palsy, without providing a straw, may be a complete waste of time.

Some disabled people say they have been leaving the house carrying a straw about their person, in case they need one during the day, because they are not available now in so many places.


“Dangerous” alternative

Alternative materials for straws, such as paper or metal, may also cause problems for people who have a disability. Paper straws have been described as “useless” because they are not as durable and can become soft too easily.

Metal straws are also considered unsuitable, because for someone who has less muscle control, an involuntary movement while taking a drink can have dangerous consequences if a solid straw is in the person’s mouth.

Currently, critics say that because disabled people need plastic straws in order to take a drink, they are being made to feel guilty. On the surface, by drinking through plastic straws, they appear to be ignoring the global campaign to cut down on single-use plastic.

In reality, they don’t have a choice, as there isn’t a viable alternative. This has been labelled “discrimination” against disabled people, as there is nothing they can do except continue to use plastic straws.


Viable alternative needed

The consensus among the disabled community is that when innovators come up with a suitable alternative to plastic, they will be willing to give it a try, as they care about the planet as much as everyone else does. However, any changes to consumers’ habits in reducing single-use plastics must be done with everyone in mind.

It is being suggested that rather than having a blanket ban on straws, they should be kept behind the bar at venues, instead of being automatically given to customers. This would mean that disabled people who needed a straw could ask for one and it would be provided.

Kinderkey provides safe sleeping solutions for people with disabilities, such as our Stellan complex care system, to improve the comfort and safety of people who may be in danger of falling or climbing out of bed.

Please contact us for details of how we can help to improve your quality of life.

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